One of the pleasant side effects of turning my back on BBC news and the overpaid (male) presenters is that I have discovered new things on Radio Four Extra. I thought I could never be without Radio 4 in the morning with the Today Programme a staple of my life since student days but it seems I can! Radio 4 Extra has programmes from the archive and I recently discovered that they are broadcasting the 2005 production of Paul Scott’s Raj Quartet.
I have yet to read my way through the four books that make up Scott’s highest literary achievement but I started listening to the episodes that covered ‘The Jewel in the Crown’ and then carried on listening past ‘The Day of the Scorpion’ and on to the episodes that covered the final two books.
It was captivating radio in the way that radio drama can be; an intimate experience that is expansive at the same time. Across nine hour long episodes it follows the story of the British in India and their effect on the Indians during the second world war when it is becoming increasingly clear that British rule must come to an end.
The books are not given equal exposure; while ‘The Jewel in the Crown’ is covered well, the third book of the quartet is only given one episode and large parts of ‘The Day of the Scorpion’ are left out. This is why is worth reading as well as listening. Scott may have been discursive at times but the back story of the end of empire is worth covering.
Mark Bazely played Ronald Merrick and Prasanna Puwanarajah played Hari Kumar. Lia Williams was Sarah Layton and Anna Maxwell Martin was Daphne Manners. My favourite performance was Gary Waldhorn’s Count Bronowski.
In London so I crossed to the Holborn area on my way to the British Museum because I wanted to seek out the statue of Fenner Brockway. It was created by Ian Walters and unveiled by Michael Foot in 1985 when the subject was still alive; he died in 1988 at the age of 99.
Throughout his life he campaigned for race equality, peace and anti-colonialism. He was a conscientious objector in the First World War but later thought that taking up arms might be necessary. His change of mind was influenced by the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War.
He served as a Labour MP twice but with a twenty year gap between his two periods in the House of Commons. He lost his seat in 1964 which was surprising as it was a year of a Labour victory but he was considered to be a supporter of immigration to his constituency. He later served in the House of Lords and he continued to be a campaigner until his death.
The concept behind the Migration Museum is such a good one and is needed more than ever in our divided Brexit broken country. This exhibition in temporary accommodation in Lambeth shows how seven major migration moments changed Britain. The title of the exhibition is ‘No Turning Back’.
It is useful to be reminded about the history that has forged Britain especially when the version of history portrayed by many in the EU referendum is one rewritten to suit the Little Englanders currently in the ascendant. Here we see that Britain has been connected to the world over the centuries with migrations in and out. Seven critical moments are represented here through artefacts and artistic responses.
I was struck by how the events that formed my own political education have become ‘history’. The Rock Against Racism movement of the 1970s was represented with magazine covers and posters that fought back against the racist comments from some musicians (ones I admired!) in an age when people thought it was okay to make such comments. Also here, though, is the formation of the East India Company and the start of a strong connection between Britain and India as well as the expulsion of the Huguenots from Europe. Migrations of which Britain should be proud include the refuge granted to Spanish children during their civil war of the 30s and the German Jewish children who were brought to safety to escape the Nazi regime in Germany.
The section which I liked the best was the celebration of mixed race Britain. The 2011 census showed this to be a growing area of self-identity. It is the obvious next development of a multi-racial and multi- cultural society.
Photographs, art works, personal recollections and quotes all add up to an amazing exhibition in which to get lost on a wet afternoon. I loved it. As I finished, I was struck by a huge poster with a statement below it of a young man, who might be mixed race but who was not white, who voted for Brexit. I wanted/needed to know more. Why did he? What statement does it make that he is concerned about immigration in a society where he and others like him have been beneficiaries? It troubles me still but maybe I need to be challenged in my assumptions. In any case, there was no more from him on offer.
In London, so I went to see the Leighton House Museum in the Holland Park area. I have long been an admirer of the work of Frederic, Lord Leighton and wanted to see the oriental influences in the decoration of the house he lived, worked and died in. I arrived just as the museum opened so had the place to myself (apart from the people who worked there, of course) for the first hour of my visit. Other visitors started arriving as I finished.
Frederic Leighton commissioned George Aitchison to build him a house that could be both home and studio. Additional parts were added in later years but the central feature was the Arab Hall with tiled walls, a dome and running water into a pool in the floor. Since I was on my own I kept stepping both ways through a doorway in and out of the drawing room since it was a contrast of East and West. Crossing between them seemed to be a good way of capturing the spirit of the British artist inspired by the East. A Millais painting hangs in the drawing room and Islamic inspired tiles decorate the Arab Hall; the combination is a good evocation of the man.
Queen Victoria visited the man and his house but she probably had lots of retainers with her. I was on my own! The works on show here are interesting but his best known paintings and sculptures are elsewhere in the big national galleries. Interestingly, there is a colour study for the painting ‘Cimabue’s Celebrated Madonna is Carried in Procession through the Streets of Florence’, a painting in the National Gallery that I have to visit every time I am passing that way!
An interesting fact I picked up on this visit was that he did not have his peerage for very long. He was made Baron Leighton in the 1896 New Year Honours List, making him the first artist to be honoured in this way, only to die the next day!
This book by Tony Peake is short but it contains a big story in the limited number of pages. It is a story of awakening in 60s South Africa. Young Paul is different from his contemporaries in many ways, not least because his parents came to the country to avoid a grim post war Britain. Here, they hoped to build a life for themselves among the white population whose attitudes are alien and sometimes hostile.
Paul has to board during the week and is desperate to belong. He is included in a select group of pupils by a teacher who aims to broaden the minds of his charges by getting them to discuss the news. Of more worth to the young Paul is the attention from popular boy Andre Du Toit. The gang that gather around this boy vie for preferment. Du Toit encourages them by keeping a pecking order and regularly demoting boys so that their loyalty is always to them and not each other.
Paul watches as his parents also try to belong and the attention of Du Toit’s father. What starts as acceptance turns into something else when the questions about the regime threaten to spoil a useful friendship.
The story is told in flashback so we have an adult Paul driving in modern day South Africa in search of a person who may have been more influential than he realised when he was a boy. This person stands as a role model for the adult Paul and represents the moral code that was missing in apartheid South Africa. The crossing of boundaries involves the race issue as well as class and nationality and, finally, sexuality.
‘North Facing’ by Tony Peake is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
David Olusoga’s book has the sub-title ‘A Forgotten History’ so his work is timely since it sets the record straight in terms of the multi-cultural nature of British society. Since Roman times there has been a black presence on these islands and, as he shows in chapters that proceed chronologically, there has been a black participation in the life of the country ever since.
Some of the participants were not voluntary members of society, of course, since they were here as slaves. One of the sad trends related here is the fashion for young enslaved black boys or girls to attend the rich in their houses only to be cast out when they have grown older and less appealing.
The noble history of the campaign to end the slave trade is given a lot of space but so also is the less well known accommodations given to the merchants who built their fortunes on slavery. Compensation was paid! The role of Thomas Clarkson was given prominence even though the sons of Wilberforce tried to play down his contribution at the same time as promoting the part played by their father.
The chapter on the second world war was informative in terms of the racism debate and the extent to which British attitudes were shaped by the insistence that the American colour (color) bar was maintained over here. It is pleasing to think that the British were less prejudiced but the subsequent history, including the reluctance of the Attlee government to import black labour in the post war period, suggests that it was not an exclusively American attitude.
This was an excellent ‘opening up’ of an important part of British history and I was glad to have read it.
I loved the anime ‘Your Name’ so much that I bought the first volume of the manga version. I understand that the manga followed the film, which is interesting since more often it is the other way around. In this case, the book covers only part of the film even if it is the most interesting part: where rural high school student Mitsuha longs for a life in the big city and wakes up in the body of Taki, a high school boy in Tokyo; he wakes up as her. Their confusion and then accommodation of this situation gave the story the real drama and the real interest.
Mitsuha lives in a town called Itomori, a fictional construct for the story. She gets what she wants when she wakes as Taki but it is unclear why he should become her, there is no equivalent desire to become a girl. Nevertheless, he is most interested in the idea of having breasts and is usually caught out by Mitsuha’s younger sister physically exploring him/herself each morning!
The switch and switch back give the story interest but it is Taki whose personality is the most affected. He returns to his own body to find his dad is charmed by being called ‘daddy’ and the interest he has in a slightly older woman at his casual job moves on a pace when he finds a date has been arranged for him when Mitsuha was in his body.
The manga volume ends when the switching stops, something of a half way point in the film. The film takes several viewings so a manga version adds little but consolidates the sense that this was a fascinating story.